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Couple’s journey always led back ‘home’

Life took Fort Scott Presbyterian Village residents Letha and Roy Johnson on a number of journeys throughout the years, but home has always been together and always led back to the Fort Scott community.

“We went to high school together, but didn’t date until after we graduated,” Letha said. “We dated for a few months, then he went off to the Army. He said he didn’t want any commitments while he was away, but we wrote all the time, and we’d date when he came home. When he was discharged, we started dating all the time.”

Before long, they tied the knot and shot out into their married life like a rocket.

“We were married on Oct. 27, 1956, and we were both here at Fort Scott,” Letha said. “When we got married, he was working in Kansas City. He got a job there right after he left the service. We were married on Saturday evening, drove to Kansas City after the service and got an apartment in Mission, because he had to go to work on Monday. We didn’t have time for a honeymoon. A year later we drove to Colorado and called it a honeymoon.”

They moved around the Kansas City metro area for a few years, but before long, the pull of home drew them back to Fort Scott.

“We bought a house in Overland Park, and we finally had our daughter,” Letha said. “When she was about two, Roy said, ‘I don’t think this is a place to raise a child.’ We moved to Fort Scott and bought a farm and lived there for 43 years.”

While working at the BFGoodrich store, Letha said someone expressed interest in selling off his milk route. Roy thought that was a good idea, so he bought the route and started delivering milk to customers.

“He hauled milk for a while,” Letha said. “Then he went to El Dorado Springs, Mo., and a guy there was selling a tank truck. So Roy sold the milk route and bought the tank truck and ran that for quite a while. That was a seven-days-a-week job. He hated working on Sundays and didn’t feel good asking others to do it, so he said ‘let's look for something else.’”

Something else came in the form of a lumberyard in the small town of Redfield.

“The town had a grocery store and a school, and we bought the lumberyard from the old man wanting to get out,” Letha said. “And we went into the lumber and hardware business. Then the school consolidated with Uniontown, and the grocery store burned down. Then most of the people drove somewhere else for work. Things didn’t look that rosy. We talked to the banker, and he said the only thing to do was to get bigger or close down. To get bigger, you’d have to take on debt, and we didn’t think that was a good idea.”

After the grocery store burned down, they dedicated a portion of the hardware store for groceries. That’s how Roy ended up back in the milk business.

“A man brought milk to the store, and Roy said he’d like to get out of the business,” Letha said. “He asked if we’d like to get in the milk business, so I ran the store until we sold it, and Roy hauled milk door-to-door.”

Over time, the demand for at-home milk delivery waned, and after years of physical work, Roy began having difficulty with his feet and legs. A friend in the insurance business persuaded Roy to sell insurance, which he did until his retirement in 2016 at the age of 82.

“We’ve had a varied life, but a busy one,” Letha said. “We dived right into anything that came along. For the most part it was successful. I think it’s been pretty good. We never missed a meal.”

Throughout the years, Letha said that communication has been the key to their successful marriage.

“We’ve never had any great problems,” she said. “We’ve had a few arguments along the way, but nothing big. Communication is the big thing. You need to communicate, for crying out loud! Roy’s a great communicator. He’d come home and tell me everything that happened in his day. A couple just needs to talk things out. We had a few fusses and fights, but if you don’t, I don’t know if you have a marriage at all. Just don’t get too mad at each other. And we’ve pretty much worked together on everything we’ve had to do. I think that helps.”

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